Tips: How to get the most out of Google
Command and the Net Genie Finds.
less than five years, “to google” has become a generic
verb to describe searching the world wide web — and with good
reason. Yet even experienced fact-seekers may be unaware of the
full range of powers that the world’s favourite search engine
places at their fingertips. Like a friendly spirit that says, “Your
wish is my command”, Google is limited only by the skill and
imagination of its master. In this extract from a new, unofficial
Google manual, you will discover the advanced commands and tips
that searchers can draw on to summon the Google genie…
THAT HELP YOU TO BE SPECIFIC
When you type a query into the Google search box, you can add commands
(also called operators) that tell Google something specific about
your search. For example, titles — the underscored
words in blue that appear at the top of each Google search result
— are different from web addresses. Titles are handy to search
when you want pages that really focus on your topic. Type in the
command intitle with a colon before each
of your terms, without spaces: intitle:bird
intitle:watching or intitle:“bird
watching” (note quotation marks). The first
example finds titles that contain each of your terms; the second
finds titles that contain the exact phrase. A variation of this
command, allintitle, finds pages that
have all your keywords or phrases in the title, in any order. For
example: allintitle:bird watching Scotland.
A link anchor refers to the words and pictures
on a web page that serve as links to another page. Mostly, a link
is a blue, underlined word or phrase that describes a related, linked
page, but they turn up as buttons, icons or images, too. The inanchor
operator searches for text in link anchors. It’s a nifty way
to gain an idea of which or how many pages link to a person, place
or thing. Sometimes, it can help you find an e-mail address, since
most web pages consider e-mail addresses to be links. Use it like
this: inanchor: “Andrew Sullivan”
to find sites linking to the popular political weblog The Daily
Dish. Not surprisingly, Google has an allinanchor
option. Bear in mind that the key words you specify with this command
must all appear in a link anchor in order to show up in your results.
The site command makes a quick and handy
search function for websites that don’t have their own search
feature. Unlike the previous commands, site has two parts.
First, you have to attach a web address to the site: command. Second,
you add the keywords or phrases you want to search for: site:uefa.com
“Luis Figo” goals, or site:gov.uk
You don’t have to include http:// or www and you don’t
have to put the site name in quotes. You can also exclude
a particular website from your search by placing a hyphen
before the command. For example, if you want to look for sites about
books, but don’t want to wade through results from Amazon,
books -site:amazon.co.uk does the trick.
Mostly. This doesn’t block Amazon UK’s international
partners, such as Amazon.com, because that is not the site you specified.
To avoid all instances of Amazon in an address, and to search within
site subdirectories (words at the end of a site name after a slash),
use the inurl command, as below.
WITHIN WEB ADDRESSES
The inurl operator tells Google to look
only for web addresses (URLs) that include your search terms. No
body text. No titles. Unlike the site command, inurl
doesn’t require additional query words: inurl:“great
pumpkin” is perfectly acceptable.
Remember, a URL can’t contain any spaces, like the one between
“great” and “pumpkin”, but if your query
includes an exact phrase that has spaces, Google automatically searches
for variations that work in URLs, such as great, pumpkin and great-pumpkin.
Unlike the site command, inurl lets you search
sub-directories. Thus, the search inurl:ebay.co.uk/help
brings a gaggle of links to eBay help pages. When using inurl,
you can’t include http:// or Google will come up with zero
results. As with the site: command, you can exclude
a site from your search. For example, books
-inurl:amazon. A variation, allinurl,
finds all instances of your keywords, but it doesn’t mix well
with some other special commands.
If your keywords describe a concept, you might want the results
to include synonyms for your query. For example,
if you’re looking for technical help, it’s useful to
include automatically synonyms like support and customer service
without having to type them all in. The ~ symbol
tells Google to look for synonyms of the term immediately following
the symbol. Typing ~ help Microsoft Word
yields a list of pages with tips/hints/advice/guidance about the
TO MIX SEVERAL COMMANDS
Some combinations of commands work extremely well.
Here is an example to start you off: intitle
and site. If you wanted a sense of the fill-in
forms available from the Department of the Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs, you could enter intitle:form site:defra.gov.uk.
If you want to narrow that down, you could include other keywords,
like this: Rural Enterprise intitle:form site:defra.gov.uk.
As noted above, some commands work only on their own, while some
play well with others. For those you can combine, cleverly splicing
them together can narrow your search results in the most satisfying
manner. The trick is to experiment and find out what works best
for your searches.
NOT TO MIX COMMANDS
The most important rules to keep in mind are those dictating which
commands not to mix. These don’t get along with any
of the others: allinurl, allintitle, allinanchor.
You can also run into trouble by doubling up a single operator.
The query “history courses” site:com site:sch
might look as though you are asking Google to give you results form
either .com or .sch sites; in fact, you are telling it that your
results should come from sites that are simultaneously part of both
domains. Unfortunately, there is no such address as www.google.com.sch.
If you want results from .sch and .com domains only, try “history
courses” site:sch OR site:com.
BY NUMBER AND DATE
You can temporarily change Google’s behaviour by placing an
ampersand (&) at the end of the results address
(the long string that ends up in your browser’s address bar
after you’ve hit Search) and adding a modifier which is simply
a term that alters your results slightly. So, if you don’t
see num= (which tells you the number of search results
Google will show on each results page) in the results address, add
an ampersand (&), then type in num=x,
where x is your desired number. For example, set the number
of results to 50 per page by adding &num=50.
By adding &as_qdr=m#, you can alter the maximum age
of the results, in months. Simply change the # symbol to any number
from 1 to 12. This trick can be an excellent way of narrowing results
to only the freshest pages — handy when looking for a page
that you are sure has been changed recently.
To make sure the SafeSearch filter is on, add this to the search
OPINION AND EXPERT ADVICE
Google Groups are handy for finding arcane bits of knowledge shared
by specialists (how to use an old Atari console as a web server),
for connecting with people who share an interest of yours (Renaissance
portraits), or for hooking up with an expert who might be able to
answer a question (whether your family has ancestors in Wellingborough).
For tech support, consider heading over to Groups, where you can
search existing messages for help and post questions or answers.
groups (accessed from Google’s home page) are organised by
categories, each of which has sub-categories. Each topic contains
many discussions (also known as threads), and each discussion is
made up of one or more posts. Top-level categories, such as those
listed on the Google Groups home page, are called hierarchies. All
groups fit into a hierarchy, as indicated by the first part of a
group’s name followed by a dot. For example, the Sci. (science)
hierarchy has a sub-category called Agriculture.
Google Groups home page lists 10 hierarchies. Alt. stands for alternative,
but might as well mean “anything goes” and is by far
the largest hierarchy, containing thousands of groups. The rest
have dozens, sometimes hundreds. You can browse these groups alphabetically
from the Groups main page by clicking “Browse complete list
of groups”. When you see a asterisk in a group name, that
means the group has many sub-categories, beneath which come sub-groups.
For example, Microsoft.* means that the Microsoft hierarchy has
sub-categories, and Microsoft.public.* means that Microsoft.public
also has several sub-groups (296, in fact), and so on. The asterisk
is a wildcard, and this is the one place on Google where a wildcard
The Missing Manual, First Edition by Sarah Milstein and Rael Dornfest,
published 2004 (O’Reilly Media).
courtesy of The Sunday Times
June 6, 2004
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